It’s always been a pleasure to be associated with Sonus faber, and even in the most worrying moments of 2020 they brought enjoyment into our lives through the new Minima Amator II speakers from their Heritage Collection. It took a while for us to put into words what these beatific speakers do. Here are our findings…
The new Minima Amator II speaker system arrived here just as lockdown happened. Yet when it came to writing about the Minima I’ve found myself uncharacteristically lost for words – It has taken longer than usual but follows is our personal take on the new Minima Amator II.
As Covid 19 cut it’s first swathe around the world, the team at Sonus faber in Italy abandoned travel and took the opportunity to talk directly to their network of dealers, including us, via Zoom. They were able to articulate not just how a particular speaker sounds, but everything behind it – the design, components and manufacturing process. This skill in communication permeates everything about Sonus faber – their website, social media and most importantly their speakers all deliver the message. Their enthusiasm, expertise and sheer passion for what they do come through in a way that you you’ll find makes prefect sense – just watch the video below.
The new Minima Amator II is part of the same Heritage series at the Elector Amator above, and we were lucky enough to get the first sample set just as the first lockdown happened. Yet when it came to writing about the new Minima I’ve found myself uncharacteristically lost for words – Maybe it was a reaction to all that was unfolding at the time, too much doom-scrolling or I just couldn’t out do Sonus faber’s own descriptions. So it has taken longer than usual but it’s also given me the chance to think moire deeply about what makes a speaker sound great and also listen to the Minima’s with a broader range of other components and systems.
Still, we’ll try to give your our personal take. For us, the new Minima is a logical extension of all the experiences we’ve enjoyed with Sonus faber over the years. Our introduction was the original Concertino which owed a lot to the original Minima. It was love at first listen. Since then through the Signums, Cremona Auditors and Olympicas, we’ve carried the torch for Sonus faber’s smaller speakers.
Over that time we’ve seen and heard Sonus faber continually improving and broadening their range. Every new generation has proved to be better than the previous. And each range, and even models within a series have shown distinctive individual characters. You may well have heard generalisations describing the sound of Sonus faber and while this is very definitely a thing, there is a lot of room for individuality. The Minima exemplifies this.
The new Minima is part of a series of 3 designs that form the Heritage range – these are not only a homage to Sonus faber’s most influential designs but embody the latest technology and techniques – you can download the catalogue here.
There is a strong emphasis on heritage, yet the Minima Amator II is far more than a reworked version of a classic.
The core tenet of minimalism is that form follows function. Despite this the Minima is unashamedly good looking with perfectly finished solid wood panels, Italian leather and brass accents. Dig a little deeper and you’ll quickly find that every aesthetic aspect of the Minima does in fact deliver in terms of function.
The Minima genuinely sounds like a bigger speaker – a side by side comparison with Sonus faber’s comparatively priced Sonetto III floor standing option is illuminating.
Sonus faber are all about the voice and Minima has a voice all of its own. The sound is warm yet possessed of remarkable transparency. The sense of space and being there is palpable.
So how do they do this? A speaker system is comparatively simple and of all the designs out there a compact ported two way system is about as elegant and simple as it gets. There are 4 critical ingredients – the drivers, the cross-over, the cabinet and the overall design that combines the components. This last factor really is everything as any of the other elements may be of exceptional quality but it’s how the system works as a whole that really matters.
Again, I’ll draw your attention to Sonus faber’s own site as they go into detail on each and every aspect. There you’ll learn about the painstaking design and manufacture process that goes into these unique speakers – they are a combination of craftsmanship, luxury materials and uncompromising technical rigour.
Sonus faber are a unique brand in their own right – their Italian sensibilities shine through and there’s never any thought given to compromise just to fill a particular price point. All their models are genuinely made in Italy at their own factory. (they tried off-shoring with the Venere series a few years back to allow volume production and while they were very good, the new fully Italian made Sonetto series is much better for the return home.)
Back to the Minima. This is a speaker that no-one else could or even would produce. There is a lexicon of terms that the hi-fi press, such as it is, will use to describe the sound of stereo systems and as much as I hate to say it there is a real male thing going on – they will talk about attack, pace and bass slam as if we want a speaker that will bludgeon us into submission. The Minima is far more subtle and seductive – they really do sing to you and it’s not about the frequency extremes – it’s about the voice and what happens with instruments in the midrange. The Minima communicates the musical message like no other speaker and the moment you hear them for yourselves this will be obvious.
Nothing is forced, they just flow. There are no hard edges yet the finest detail is somehow just there. The new Minima reveals layers of music in a way we could only have dreamt of with the original versions. So while delivering the full rich red wine experience that the reputation is built upon, there is every advantage taken of the higher resolution and fidelity of new sources and better electronics.
There is an implication that the Minima may suit some genres of music better than others and it is undeniably true that their rendition of voice and acoustic instruments is everything their reputation suggest and more. Yet I’ve found some of my more ‘difficult’ favourites there have been revelations.
I’ve got sludgy sounding albums with heavily distorted electric guitar that the Minimas imbue with a tangible viscosity yet layers of previously impenetrable production are revealed. The Minimas don’t bite but the transparency and inner detail more than make up for the edge of the seat experience.
Despite the laid back nature of the Minima, the powers of resolution are remarkable – I think this is directly attributable to the quality of both the tweeter (sourced directly from Sonus faber’s own much more costly ranges), and the work done with both the crossover configuration and quality of components used within the network. It’s a really interesting contrast between the Sonus faber tweeter and the latest ribbons used in the best Monitor Audio speakers.
Both companies select the material used to provide aural continuity between midrange and high frequencies – with Sonus faber the organic qualities of the special pulp mixture used in the bass mid driver blend seamlessly with the silk dome, and this in turn is damped at a central point to eliminate breakup and unwanted resonance. Monitor Audio take another track and harness the technical advantages of metal in both units to provide this continuity and aim for accuracy and extension with a pleated ribbon tweeter.
There are significant differences in presentation between these two approaches despite sharing common goals. It’s almost like hearing two quite different versions of the same song and leads you to question which one is actually right.
Sonus faber aim for the heart and although warm in tone, the light touch draws you in. There’s more to the musical experience than technical accuracy and a lot to be said for just making things sound nice. You could say that Sonus faber are the ultimate speaker for non-audiophiles. This is obviously a bit trite but maybe if we ignore our preconceptions and just focus on the music and how it makes us feel, this makes more sense.
The size of a speaker system has become irrelevant when it comes to actual musical quality – if anything, a smaller speaker will inevitably outperform a larger model at the same price in almost all musically important areas as, all things being equal, quality matters more than quantity. The Minima again proves this point and Sonus faber’s designers have artfully managed the interplay between cabinet and driver size, efficiency and extension.
The Minimas are beautiful. The highest resolution picture only hints at how they appear in real life and to actually have them in our own home has been an amazing privilege this year. They are bigger than you might expect but it’s all curves and there’s a world of difference between veneer and solid wood. As a card carrying greenie and vegetarian I have to work to rationalise the use of leather but a synthetic facsimile seems to be even less preferable. In the end I’ll accept the personal compromise simply because the end result is, if anything a tribute to the source.
While being as far away from the mass market as it’s possible to be with the Minima, Sonus faber have still managed to give us exceptional value. The pricing falls midway in the Sonnetto series which Sonus faber have denoted to be their ‘Democratic’ range – you have to look at this term in an very Italian context for it to make sense and yes, it’s a political statement that I very much like.
The Minima brings previously unreachable luxury to a lot more people and is also designed to be a once only purchase. Those who have to stretch will appreciate the Minima most especially when they will last a lifetime and likely be passed on to the next generation.
The qualities of the Minimas have two contrasting benefits. On one hand they make even modest electronics perform at a level that seems out of kilter – the simple two way design and benign sound mean amplifiers are in their happy place when it comes to making everything work – you’ll find that you actually listen to the Minimas at lower volume levels that you would with other speakers simply because they communicate more without having to be pushed. Even the brightest sounding electronics are tamed while at the same time the richness of tube (or tube like) is enhanced so you get more of what made you choose your amplifier in the first place.
The other benefit is that the Minimas are unlikely to ever be the limiting factor in a system. While they make a modest amplifier sound great, you can really hear the improvements made if you are lucky enough to be able to move further up the audio food chain – it’s not so much a case of more volume with more powerful or costly amplifiers – rather the further you go, the more you can hear into the music. The spacial and tonal qualities do favour a relaxed listening style and while the Minimas are equally happy with 30 or 300 watts you’d simply never be inclined to unleash the full force of the latter into them. Just benefit from the headroom and ease of having an amp that’s cruising rather than straining.
I’ve also found the Minimas to retain their distinctive character in widely varied environments – you don’t need a particular sized room although I do feel they benefit from space – while they are relatively compact and you could happily locate them on shelves and enjoy a sound that is literally like dripping honey, when they have a bit of room to breathe and are on good quality stands, everything really opens out. They also allow the sound to carry and maintain consistency and coherence far from just the conventional ‘sweet spot’.
For the first time listener the Minima is a fantastic introduction to the ethos that makes Sonus faber what they are. They are the epitome of ‘the voice’ which is at the centre of the brand’s characteristic sound and stand out as being utterly distinctive – if you like them it’s very hard to look at anything else. But quite frankly, given the generosity of the sound and the unmatched quality of finish why would you?
If you’d like to hear the Minima Amator in action for yourself you are very welcome to call us to arrange an audition – they are waiting for you!
New – Sonus faber Minima Amator II – NZ$7000 the pair.